It can be a mural on a street corner, a piece of art pasted to a wall or a rainbow dripped down the side of a building. Sometimes it’s graffiti; other times it’s propaganda. Street art can be a legal mural painted on a wall or surreptitiously placed in the dead of night, ninja style. Banksy, a highly secretive street artist who operates out of the United Kingdom, has painted murals on the sides of cows, pigs and sheep. He placed his own work inside the Louvre in Paris (it was quickly removed).The genre is accepted by some as legitimate art, rejected by others as petty vandalism. Street art is a painfully wide genre and can mean different things to different people. The possibilities are endless. Whatever street art is, 516 ARTS is bringing a ton of it for your viewing pleasure with its two-and-a-half-month-long exhibit STREET ARTS: A Celebration of Hip Hop Culture and Free Expression. Murals are being painted in various locations, wheat paste posters stuck to walls (legally), and prints and films displayed in the gallery. The space’s downstairs features The Populist Phenomenon , contemporary work by about a dozen artists; upstairs, there’s a history of graffiti titled Street Text: Art from the Coasts . A spoken word portion, which features poetry and music, begins in November.The art form has roots in disparate places: Chicano graffiti from the streets of Los Angeles (see “Señor Suerte” in this week’s Arts Section), Subway graffiti that originated in 1970s New York and the more propaganda-driven works of European street artists. Though it is rooted in graffiti, Program Coordinator Francesca Searer is quick to point out that street art is more than just “tagging,” which she calls a “closed code” meant to be read and understood primarily by other taggers. Street art, she argues, is intended as a message to the larger community. Many of the artists are also activists, public-service minded people and teachers.516 Executive Director Suzanne Sbarge wants the multimedia showcase to open a dialogue about street art and its place in the world. She said the show is not intended to encourage people to go out and paint illegally but to bring them in off the street, and, hopefully, make their work more widely accepted. The show includes work by several New Mexico artists as well as national and international icons. Shepard Fairey, who created the “Hope” poster of President Barack Obama, is part of the exhibit. Alexandre Orion is a Brazilian who sometimes wipes his art out of the soot inside train tunnels, often getting harassed by police but calmly pointing out that he is merely cleaning the walls. A video loop of his work is showing in the downstairs gallery. Lady Pink, a New York graffiti legend and one of the stars of the seminal hip-hop film Wild Style, is sending some graf on canvas. Slinkachu, a London-based artist, places tiny models of people in the streets of his city, has photographs of his work in the show. Documentary filmmaker Henry Chalfant, will screen and speak about his 1983 film Style Wars . Photographs he has taken of graffiti will be on display.New Mexico artists include Thomas Christopher Haag, who has been putting up murals all over Downtown as part of the show, Jaque Fragua, Ernest Doty, Stevan Gutierrez, John Lorne and Albert Rosales.Contrasting “legitimate” art with its illegal counterpart, 516 sits in the shadow of a paint rainbow dripped down the side of a condemned building next door, the work of Albuquerque’s controversial “rainbow artist” [Arts Feature, "Rainbow Warrior," Aug. 12-18]. It was not commissioned for the show, but Searer likes the painting, as it gives new life to a building that was previously sitting vacant, decaying. She says its artist is known for juxtaposing positive images with negative ones. The rainbow is a prime example of street art because it avoids the closed code of traditional graffiti. It’s something anyone can see and understand.The exhibit offers you a chance to see pieces of street art up close and in a safe environment. You no longer have to scale a 10-story building. Unless that’s your thing.
STREET ARTS: A Celebration of Hip Hop Culture and Free Expression Runs Oct. 1 through Dec. 11Opening reception: Saturday, Oct. 2 at 6 p.m. 516 ARTS516 Central SWFull schedule of events at 516arts.org